A Shakespearean tragedy – or much ado about nothing?

Shakespeare's barn at Lea
Shakespeare's barn at Lea
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TO demolish, or not to demolish...that is the question.

And while officials argue about the future of an ancient barn with links to William Shakespeare, building experts say it could fall down before a decision is made.

Owners, the de Hoghton Estate, have applied for permission to knock down the Grade II listed barn at Old Lea Hall Farm, near Preston, claiming it is not economically viable to repair it.

But the idea has brought fierce opposition from Historic England and Lancashire County Council, who both say the building should be saved because of its historic importance, as well as its connection with the Bard.

Shakespeare is believed to have lived at Lea Hall when, as a young man, he was taken in by the de Hoghton family around 1580. Parts of the old hall still remain as a tenant farmhouse, with an old stable block and the crumbling barn still surviving more than 400 years later.

“The (de Hoghton) estate isn’t keen to knock it down,” explained agent Richard Bramley who submitted the demolition application to Preston Council. “But during a storm some years ago, an adjacent barn blew sideways into it and caused serious damage.

“The walls are now leaning, and the roof has moved backwards. The estate has had a structural engineer in who says it is very dangerous.

“We have been advised no-one should go in there. Of course it’s an interesting building, but it would want an enormous amount of money spending on it - hundreds of thousands - and it wouldn’t be worthwhile.

“What could we use it for? It’s in the middle of a working farm.”

Historic England says demolition should be opposed and only considered as a “last resort.” LCC says the loss of a “significant heritage asset” cannot be justified. But, in the end, it could all turn out to be much ado about nothing.

“It has been condemned,” said Mr Bramley. “It is in a bad way. It’s all fine and dandy if someone has got a lot of money to repair it. The structural engineer says it is one of the most dangerous buildings he’s ever been in. It’s an awful pity, but if the council say we can’t knock it down it will have to stay there until either someone comes up with some alternative, or it falls down.”